Gateway Blush: The White Zinfandel’s Approachable Allure

For novice drinkers, red wine is an acquired taste. But Its powerful, tannin-heavy qualities can be overwhelming to the inexperienced palate. The wine world needed a welcome drink that would be gentel to neophyte drinkers. This wine would serve as an elegant gateway to vino appreciation and an entry point to the glamorous wine lifestyle.

Wineries date back as far as 7000 BC but it took 8,974 years for someone to realize that world needed a welcome wine drink. Enter 1975. Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery was experimenting with red Zinfandel when he ended up with a delightful and sumptuous rosé. White Zinfandel was created from an auspicious fermentation mistake. But this sweet, pale rouge drink quickly captured the fancy of wine enthusiasts from all over the United States. By the mid-1980s, the rose had secured its spot as one of America’s most popular wine varieties. At present, there are one out five American wine drinkers toasting to this premium blush wine.

Join us here at Singapore Wine Vault as we take a deeper look at what makes White Zinfandel so beloved today.

Zinfandel’s Roots

Originating from the Caucasus region, Zinfandel wine grapes are believed to have been cultivated as early as 6,000 BCE. This vitis vinifera was introduced to the United States through horticulturist George Gibbs. Gibbs had received cuttings of the varietal around the year 1820. He brought these cuttings to Boston in 1830, and not long after, a merchant named Samuel Perkins began selling Zenfendal red wine.

Interestingly, the California gold rush was instrumental in making Zinfandel a staple vine in vineyards all over that region. When nurseryman Frederick Macondray joined the gold rush, he brought cuttings of the grape to the region. He delivered the vines to Oak Knoll Vineyard’s Joseph Osborne, who in turn, crafted sumptuous wine from the grape. His primary offering of Zinfandel wines was well-received by critics in the area. Soon after, winemakers from neighboring vineyards followed suit.

Although Zin was quick to establish its dominance in the West Coast wine scene, things took a dark turn in the 1920s. The combined impact of the grape’s susceptibility to rot and the American Great Depression threatened to wipe out the popular vine. Eventually, winemakers deemed it was too expensive to sustain the vulnerable grape. So they started replacing Zin with more resilient varietals, causing the once widely spread grape to fade into the viticultural background for almost four decades.

The Accidental Birth of White Zinfandel

During the 1970s, Napa Valley’s Sutter Home Winery was a leading producer of first-rate Zinfandel reds. However, winemaker Bob Trinchero wanted to further intensify the winery’s celebrated Amador County Zinfandel. To do this, he opted to bleed the free-run juice in hopes that this would strengthen the flavor and color of the red wine.

Trinchero was a fan of French rosé wines so he fermented and aged the leftover juice. He bottled a few cases as an exclusive vintage for the winery’s tasting room and called this rose-tinged wine “Oeil de Perdrix.” The French term translates to “Eye of the Partridge,” which in the French wine industry means white wines that were made using red grapes. The phrase ‘white zinfandel wine’ was added in small print to satisfy U.S. laws requiring English descriptions.

In 1975, the winery’s White Zinfandel unexpectedly went through stuck fermentation. What happened was the yeast died off before it can convert all the sugar into alcohol, leaving behind around 2 percent (%) sugar. This stalled batch was set aside.

A few weeks later, Trinchero tasted the batch and was pleasantly surprised with the resulting sweet blush wine. Sutter Home Winery bottled the pink, semi-sweet vintage as is, dropped the ‘Oeil de Perdrix’ from the label, and introduced the White Zinfandel version we know and love today.

This White Zin took the wine world by storm and helped restore Zinfandel’s former glory. Today, the grape is planted in more than 70,000 acres around the globe, reaching as far as South Africa.

Bringing Out the Blush

Contrary to other varietals, ‘White Zinfandel’ does not refer to a specific grape variety. Rather, it pertains to the method of processing involved called the saignée technique. As mentioned earlier, this technique has the winemaker ‘bleeding’ red wine to acquire the pink juice needed for rosé production. This winemaking technique has a weighty effect on the color of the Zin rosé.

While Zinfandel reds tend to be richly crimson in color, White Zins have a blush or coral hue. These shades of pink are achieved by minimizing the juice’s contact with the grape skins. In some châteaux, the winemakers even elect to peel off the grape skins to give the wine a very pale pink tint.

Aside from changing the wine’s color, saignée also helps winemakers control the flavors and tannin levels of White Zinfandel. The wine’s meager contact with grape must makes it sweeter and softer than your standard red vino. With its smooth texture and semi-sweet taste, the White Zinfandel is also mellow enough to entice the fussiest of first-time wine drinkers.

A Friendly Flavor Profile

White Zinfandel leans toward light and citrusy flavors such as cherry, vanilla, orange, raspberry, and strawberry. Wine makers can also add fruit juices to new vintages just before bottling. Due to its sweet flavor profile, the White Zin is a fantastic complement to many light dishes. Think chicken, fish, or pasta dishes with heavy cream-based sauces. The wine’s fresh, saccharine notes can also do wonders in balancing out the heat and the savory components of an authentic Asian or Mexican dish.

The ideal temperature for drinking White Zin is at 50-54 degrees Fahrenheit. This number is significantly warmer than your fridge’s average temp of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. To avoid numbing your wine’s flavors, don’t store the bottle in your chiller. Rather, pop it into the fridge just before serving, keeping it there until it reaches its ideal serving temperature. Now, like most other rosés, White Zinfandel isn’t built for long-term wine storage. This wine is structured for easy and immediate drinking so we’re talking six months post-purchase.

Without a doubt, White Zin has left an indelible mark on avid wine enthusiasts worldwide. Many wine lovers count the fragrant blush as their first sip, eventually leading them to try more complex wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The fragrant, tasty rosé ultimately got more Americans to get into wine drinking and that is an incredible feat for a wine that was created “accidentally.”